Be a good girl, have a good time and learn a lot

Linked here is an Educause article entitled "Engage Me or Enrage Me". Lately, I have been drawn to reading articles like this about educating the so-called "Net Generation". Like others, this article makes a case that we need to edu-tain these students. The main premise of these articles is that education (in this era of the Xbox and the iPod) needs a complete overhaul in order to engage students so that they are no longer "bored" with school. In this article, the author states that there is a group of student who are "...convinced that school is totally devoid of interest and totally irrelevant to their life. In fact, they find school much less interesting than the myriad of devices they carry in their pockets’ and backpacks. These kids are used to having anyone who asks for their attention . . . work really hard to earn it. When what is being offered isn't engaging, these students truly resent their time being wasted . . . The motto for this group? 'Engage me or enrage me'."

This morning, I sat here for an hour trying to articulate what makes me so angry about this viewpoint. I have mulled over this article (and others like it) for weeks. I have started outline after outline trying to express why this viewpoint is a cop out that lowers the bar (and our expectations) for students. This view is a threat to the basic expectation that students come to school prepared to work (yes, school is work) for their education. Student "engagement" and motivation is fascinating. This article (and others like it), place the responsibility (and blame) for student motivation solely on the shoulders of the school and the instructional design which the author notes is "boring" to this generation of students.

The author asserts that at school "it is so boring that the kids, used to this other life, just can't stand it." Further, he cites that the old school curriculum is to blame. Does this include the old school curriculum standbys of reading, writing and arithmetic that adults need in order to function in society? Unfortunately, what is missing in most articles like this is an analysis of the students' responsibility. What about the level of attention and engagement we must demand of them? The author notes, "They certainly don't have short attention spans for their games, movies, music or internet surfing." Of course not - those activities are all low effort leisure pursuits. It is not plausible to compare the level of personal involvement needed to watch a movie to the attention and engagement required of a student to actively listen and participate during lectures, to write papers and to study for exams in school. Further, it is not practical to compare the rewards. While games, movies and internet surfing all provide instant gratification, it is nothing compared to the long term benefits of a hard-earned education. It is lowering the bar to defend students who do not put forth the effort and rise to the challenge. There is no way around it. You must work (hard) for your education. We must instill in students that education is work and work has its own rewards far beyond the immediate gratification of the current leisure time pursuits.

Which brings me to the title of this post . . . Every time (and I mean every time) I leave my mother (from the time I can remember through today), she says, "Be a good girl, have a good time and learn a lot." These three little phrases sum up a wonderful approach to life - and to education. The underlying theme is that life is what YOU make it - not what someone else creates for you. It is up to YOU to be good. It is up to YOU to have a good time. It is up to YOU to learn a lot. While I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of all educators to walk out the door and prepare to educate students with this same mantra running though their heads, I return to my argument that it is a cop out if we do not expect (and demand) the same of students. While I firmly agree that it is our responsibility to make education as relevant and engaging as possible, we must instill in learners that it is their education and it is up to them to be good, have a good time and learn a lot.


I wholeheartedly agree!

“Engage me or enrage me” indeed; perhaps our good author should have quoted Nirvana’s teen angst anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” instead: “I feel stupid, and contagious Here we are now, entertain us” (Oh, man, that song is 14 years old and approaching classic rock status – I feel old!) So, his argument is that kids have fun and exciting diversions outside of class, like their I-pods, Playstations, and computers. School doesn’t speak to these kids, and it not only bores them, it offends them – enrages them! They’re angry! We must do something to engage them, to make school more relevant to them, to cater to their desires. Prensky’s solution, naturally, is to bring games to the classroom, since he is “the author of Digital Game-Based Learning and the founder and CEO of Games2train, a game-based learning company whose clients include IBM, Bank of America, Nokia, and the Department of Defense.” I don’t know where to start on this one. Let’s start with his evidence. Prensky notes that he “recently looked at the three most popular (i.e., best-selling) computer and video games in the marketplace. They were, as of June 2004: City of Heroes, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban, an action game for the PlayStation 2; and Rise of Nations, a real-time strategy game for the PC.” This seems to indicate to him that kids are engaged in games that require high levels of cognitive thinking, and that schools should provide these types of experiences for them. However, a little Googling finds that “contrary to popular belief that video and PC games are only for kids, nine out of 10 of all purchasers of video game software are over 18 years of age.” Perhaps Prensky could argue that the parents are buying the games and the kids are playing them, but further reading finds that “entertainment software users are well-educated. Three-quarters (74 percent) have attended some college, earned bachelor’s degree and/or completed post graduate work.” So, it’s probably not a 14 year-old kid who’s engaged in nation building on Rise of Nations, but a college-educated guy in his 20’s or 30’s. So much for his evidence – let’s move on to the rest of his argument: “In school, though, kids don’t have the “don’t buy” option. Rather than being empowered to choose what they want (“Two hundred channels! Products made just for you!”) and to see what interests them (“Log on! The entire world is at your fingertips!”) and to create their own personalized identity (“Download your own ring tone! Fill your iPod with precisely the music you want!”)—as they are in the rest of their lives—in school, they must eat what they are served.” I’m sorry, am I missing something here? K-12 education is not a video game vendor, nor is it a restaurant, no more than boot camp is a fitness program or the IRS is a financial services provider. Students are not customers – they are students. We should strive to provide them with the best education possible, but we must also teach them the value of hard work and sacrifice. You know, I’d like to be “engaged”, too. Right about now I’d like to be engaged in drinking a cold beer on a warm beach in Thailand, discussing the awesome dive that I just had, rather than sitting here in my cold apartment writing this post. I’d like to be “engaged” in drinking beer whenever I want to and eating whatever I want when I want. Unfortunately, in life there is this niggling issue known as “responsibility.” If I ate what I wanted when I wanted, I would soon find myself overweight. If I drank whenever I wanted, I would soon find myself with serious health issues. If I chucked it all and went to Thailand, I would soon find myself penniless and selling my organs (that have been damaged by my poor eating and drinking habits). Kids have always disliked school. Sure, they’ve got more exciting toys than they used to have, but things have pretty much always been the same. In 1989, I didn’t want to go to school, either. I didn’t have IM’ing or an MP3 player or an Xbox, but I wanted to screw off, too. I wanted to play my Sega Genesis, listen to my tapes, watch TV, and talk on the phone all night long; things may have been a little lower tech, but the desire was the same. Fortunately, my parents expected me to succeed in school and I learned the value of hard work and delayed gratification. I lead an interesting and fairly fulfilling life, and this is due to the sometimes-painful sacrifices I have made. I saved my money and paid for college, and I’m still saving my money, paying for graduate school, and working hard. The sacrifices I make now will pay dividends in the future. If I had had whatever I wanted when I wanted, would I be in the same place that I am today? I don’t think so. The fact that kids have more exciting diversions today than they did twenty years ago doesn’t change the facts of life. School is something you must do, just like you must tell the truth even though it might be more expedient to lie, like you must pay your taxes when you’d rather not, or like you must save your money for the future when you’d rather go buy a new car. Prensky’s argument has that old familiar ring to it: technology for the sake of technology. He plays fast and loose with the facts and provides nothing but anecdotes to support his position. I am not a conservative, nor am I anti-technology, but I do believe in the value of hard work and sacrifice. I also think that educational technology should be implemented purposefully – not because the kids are bored. Rome ruled the West for centuries. This didn’t happen by accident – they came to rule by hard work, ingenuity, and frugality (and a heaping portion of brutality). Somewhere along the way, the rulers of Rome decided they wanted to be “engaged” so they started to engage in a bit of sloth and excess. The common folks got in on the act, too, and got engaged in some diversions of their own. In fact, the Romans got so engaged in catering to their desires that they forgot to run their affairs and others more diligent and hungrier than them destroyed their empire. I think this is an instructive tale for the world’s newest empire when it starts to talk about “engaging” its young.

You are right

Well, this Gen X and Y stuff is interesting. Their are also many baby boomers who play with as many technologies. I will do a book on all this I think and learning styles online. I just worry about work ethics--they play with technologies, but do they ever attack their work with such efforts? My son is a case in pt. He is smarter than anyone I know but believes in the principle of least effort. He loves his technology tools though.

This area is fascinating to read. Keep pushing!